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Mobile Phone Services Still Deteriorating

Haider Najm
Mobile phone companies in Iraq are being accused of delivering poor services to their increasingly frustrated customers.
9.07.2009  |  Baghdad

Today Iraqis complain that their mobile phone lines are as bad as ever and that you often have to dial a number several time just to get connected. And even when you finally do make a connection, the line quality is very poor.

Even as a wave of discontent sweeps across mobile phone subscribers, the continued lack of landline services gives them few alternatives.

In May the government fined the Zain Group, one of the largest mobile phone providers, US $18.6 million, and announced similar fines for the two other mobile phone companies "for poor services” provided.

However, the three companies have condemned the government decision and say they should not be held accountable for poor services. They say that the ongoing security issues and the lack of sufficient infrastructure are the real reasons for poor services.

“One of the reasons behind the poor service is U.S or government troops monitoring of wired and wireless frequencies granted to mobile phones companies," complained Ali al-Dahawi, head of the Zain group. Additionally he said that some private groups have their own mentoring devices which further disrupt the telephone networks.

Zain has announced that it will contest the government fines through all legal avenues. Moreover, Al-Dahawi says the government step shows that the country “is not yet ready to host foreign investors.”

But customers blame the companies.

According to Ahmad al-Rubaie, an owner of a phone shop in Baghdad, customers complain about "organized theft": they are forced to pay the cost of a failed dialled number per minute and not per second as is the case elsewhere across the world.

One customer, who did not give his name, accused the telephone companies of deliberately introducing this measure in order to compensate themselves for the government fines.

A number of newspapers have now called for bigger penalties to be imposed on the companies. One journalist at the semi-governmental Al-Sabah newspaper, wrote an article asking the government to reconsider contracts signed with these companies: “They have not issued initial public offerings to sell the shares to the public at a nominal price as specified in the contract; they have not paid the state’s share of revenues in a timely manner; they failed to pay the remaining licensing instalments; and they also failed to provide good services – for all these reasons, these companies should be held accountable.”

Other critics have called for the introduction of a state-owned company to compete with these companies, as well as the creation of consumer protection groups.

But Abdallah Saleh, head of the Labour and Services committee in parliament, blames both the government and the mobile phone companies for the poor quality of services. According to Saleh, “the illegal contracts concluded between the Iraqi government and telecommunication companies, government violations of laws in force and its urge to collect quick profits without paying due attention to consumers’ needs,” are the reasons for poor services. Saleh also acknowledged the negative interference of U.S army mentoring devices – a claim which the U.S army denies.

However, according to Saleh the companies should have taken these issues up with the appropriate regulatory authorities – a step they have not taken.

Instead, the mobile phone companies have been sending text messages to subscribers promising new improved services. But, to date, things have only been getting worse.